The eleven-month-old unnamed son of Julia Thomas died this date, June 11th, in 1845 of Inanition (starvation) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Inanition may arise from diabetes or thyroid hormone disease. Two years after the death of her son, the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census shows Ms. Thomas the head of a small family that consisted of another woman and a female child. Ms. Thomas was employed as a “day worker” while the other adult was a wash woman. The child attended the St. Mary Street School.
The red pin illustrates the location of Currant Alley in 1845. The alley no longer exists.
City directories and the 1847 Census report Ms. Thomas’ address as #39 Currant Alley in center city Philadelphia. Currant Alley was a two-city-block long narrow thoroughfare. Ms. Thomas paid $3.25 a month for one room where the three family members resided. With the two women working, they would be lucky to bring that amount home in a week.
The star indicates the two city block long Currant Alley.
Ninety-six Black families lived in the densely packed alley with a staggering total of three hundred twenty-one Black family members, according to the 1847 Census. The Census also showed that the Currant Alley adults were solidly working class, having a wide range of laboring and domestic jobs to which African American men and women were restricted. The Thomas family attended church services regularly and contributed to a beneficial society, as did many of their neighbors.
Julia Thomas’ son was one of thirty-five Philadelphia children that died in 1845 with the diagnosis of Inanition. The child was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on a cloudy June day on which the temperature rose to 84 degrees.
Twenty-three-year-old Cornelia Fletcher died this date, April 29th, in 1848 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census reports Ms. Fletcher was the head of a household that included three other Black women. In addition, the Census states that Ms. Fletcher was the owner of 8 1/2 Barley Alley. The house was valued at $750 or $23,250 in 2019 currency. Her monthly mortgage payment was $4 or $124 in 2009 currency.
The 1848 Philadelphia City Directory shows an Elizabeth Fletcher residing at the same address as Cornelia Fletcher. Both are employed as seamstress/dressmaker. Elizabeth could be Cornelia’s mother or sister. The two other women living in the home are working as domestics and their names are not recorded. The 1847 Census reports that only three of the women were born in Pennsylvania. All of them could read and write and they regularly attended religious services.
Barley Alley was considered to be a cartway being only 6’10” wide. In this small thoroughfare, there were 56 other Black families in addition to Ms. Fletcher’s with a total of 245 individuals, according to the 1847 Census. These individuals were employed in 25 different occupations.
It is shocking to contemplate that, during Cornelia Fletcher’s short life, she was witness and victim of five race riots in Philadelphia. A sixth riot occurred the year after she died. Black business and civil rights leader Robert Purvis wrote in 1842 that the white mob violence destroyed a great deal of what the Black community built and created a constant “Hell on Earth” for Black Philadelphians. Despite this, the four women at 8 1/2 Barley Alley fought back to preserve their right of self-determination.
Cornelia Fletcher was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on a clear warm April day with the winds coming out of the South.
One-year-old George Henry Mendoza died this date, January 20th, in 1847 of Whooping Cough and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The child was the son of 17-year-old Louisa Mendoza, a single mother, who was employed as a domestic day worker, according to the 1847 African American Census and the 1850 Federal Census. This small family lived in a 10’x10′ room at 8 Adam Street for which Ms. Mendoza paid $2 a month. Records also report that she could read and write and that she did not attend religious services. There are no records indicating who the child’s father might have been.
“Young Negro Woman”
From 1847 through 1848, a total of 154 Philadelphia children died from Whooping Cough.
Three years after her child died, Ms. Mendoza is listed in the 1850 Federal Census as a live-in domestic for a wealthy merchant family in center city Philadelphia.
The twenty-month-old son of Charles and Mary A. Slubey* died this date, October 30th, in 1848 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. William (23) worked as a laborer earning $5/week and Mary (23) was employed as a laundress who took in wash and ironing according to the 1847 African American Census. By 1850 William was employed as a waiter. The 1850 Federal Census lists his birthplace as New Jersey. Mary A. was born in Rhode Island.
The Slubey family paid $5/month for a room in a house on Marriott’s Lane. This room was home to 7 people (6 females and Mr. Slubey) after his son died. There appears to be an older female who was “helpless.” Probably the mother of William or Mary who was an invalid. After the baby’s death, Mary would give birth to a baby girl (Anna) one year later.
Marriott’s Lane was in what is now know as the Italian Market area of south Philadelphia.
The Slubey family lived on the 400 block Marriott’s Lane (red arrow) now known as Montrose Street. According to the 1848 African American Census, there were 35 other African American families listed on the same street. Their home was only several blocks from Bethel Burying Ground (red diamond).
*There are numerous different spelling of the families last name. I used the most common, however in the 1838 City Directory the family name is spelled “Sedler.” Other census records show “Sulbey” and “Slaby.”
This is the legal document that was signed by the attorneys for Richard Allen and the original trustees of Mother Bethel when they purchased the property for the burying ground in April of 1810. Somewhere along the line the document was stolen and eventually resurfaced in a North Carolina flea market where it was purchased! It was donated to the Smithsonian several years ago by the daughter of the woman who acquired it. (Personal communications between myself, the Smithsonian and the donor.)
On April 28, 1810 the Reverend Richard Allen and the trustees purchased a plot of land for $1,600 to be used as a cemetery not only for congregants, but for any Black man, woman or child that wanted a respectable Christian burial; as opposed to an unmarked grave in a potter’s field.
October 10, 1914 “Pencil Pusher Points” column of Black journalist William Carl Bolivar in the Philadelphia Tribune.
In 1823 Rev. Richard Allen wrote that Bethel Church had spent between $1,200 and $1,500 in charitable relief for those who could not afford to pay for a burial on Queen Street.*
*Richard S. Newman, Freedom’s Prophet, p.150.
The above is the original “Indenture” or sale agreement for the purchase of the Bethel Burying Ground on April 10, 1810 by Richard Allen and the trustees of Bethel AME Church. The document is owned by the Smithsonian Institute and will be exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening on the National Mall in 2015. The document will be shown along with Harriet Tubman’s shawl, Nat Turner’s Bible, a Tuskegee Airmen fighter plane, Emmett Till’s coffin and an original slave cabin from Edisto Island, South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institue.)
For a larger photo of the document please click on Smithsonian Document II